Diane Brownlee

As spring gathers momentum, as deciduous trees leaf out, as summer birds come back to join their cousins who stayed year-round, and as the warm breezes carry on them a singing, buzzing symphony of birds and insects, don’t be deceived. Nature needs our help.

Development, pollution, and invasive species are destroying and degrading habitat. It’s easy to think that the animals who live in a tree will just go somewhere else if that tree is cut down, but there is no “somewhere else” anymore.

This winter pine siskins are visiting Arkansas.

They spend their summers in Canada and the far northern United States, where they nest and breed. But their winters are unpredictable. They may stay up north or “irrupt,” move in an irregular way, to the south when there’s a food shortage in their home range.

Do you live near shortleaf pine trees? If so, you may have seen Brown-headed Nuthatches.

The Brown-headed Nuthatch is a tiny, friendly songbird that sounds like a rubber ducky. They nest and roost in snags--dead standing trees—in forests with shortleaf pines.

Nature needs our help! If you have a bird feeder, consider participating in Project FeederWatch, a citizen science project begun by Canadian and U.S. scientists in the mid-1980s to track the migration of birds on a continent-wide scale.

All you need to participate is a feeder and a small payment that finances the data collection.

Nandina domestica is a beautiful shrub with dark green leaves and bright red berries. It’s native to China and Japan and is sold at many garden stores. But did you know that its berries are poisonous?

Just a few of the bird species that depend on winter berries to survive are robins, mockingbirds, bluebirds, and cedar waxwings. In 2009, a flock of dead cedar waxwings in Georgia was autopsied and it was found that nandina berries had killed them.

This month, hummingbirds will depart our yards for their long migration to Mexico and Central America. Male birds leave first, followed by females.

In preparation for their journey, they feed voraciously and develop fat deposits that almost double their weight. While over land they travel about 20 miles a day, but over the Gulf they fly 500 miles in less than a day.

Hummingbirds are solitary, and migrate alone. They do not ride on the backs of larger birds, but fly under their own power.

Have you ever found a feather and wondered what kind of bird it belonged to?

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service maintains the Feather Atlas, an image database on the Internet dedicated to the identification and study of the feathers of North American birds. The Atlas contains images of the three types of flight feathers—primaries, or outer wing feathers—secondaries, or inner wing feathers—and rectrices, or tail feathers.

Birds need our help. Research has shown that billions of birds have disappeared from the U.S. in the last few decades.

The most important factor in attracting a bird is not a feeder in your yard, but instead is the habitat you provide. Consider eastern bluebirds. Males have deep blue backs and wings and rusty or brick-red throats and breasts.

Bluebirds like open areas with mature, spaced out trees. Put up a nesting box—bluebirds are cavity nesters and will use them.

This month, we are sharing our own personal experiences in nature.

I’ve again this year had two pair of Carolina wrens display their great energy in the dense and undisturbed bushes of my house. They feed on insects, caterpillars and spiders on the grounds and are particular at the feeders. The monogamous pairs have created nests using discovered materials positioned into unique and unintended nesting places such as upturned bicycle helmets, or gardening shoes on a shelf.

The opossum is the only marsupial, or pouched mammal, native to the United States.

The name opossum comes from the Algonquin language, and means “white animal.” In 1608, John Smith wrote in Map of Virginia that “an opassom hath an head like a Swine, and a taile like a Rat, and is of the bignes of a Cat. Under her belly she hath a bagge, wherein she lodgeth, carrieth, and sucketh her young.”

The opossum is the only marsupial, or pouched mammal, native to the United States.

The name opossum comes from the Algonquin language, and means “white animal.” In 1608, John Smith wrote in Map of Virginia that “an opassom hath an head like a Swine, and a taile like a Rat, and is of the bignes of a Cat. Under her belly she hath a bagge, wherein she lodgeth, carrieth, and sucketh her young.”

Do you enjoy watching birds? They are on the decline due to climate change, cats, loss of habitat, industrial threats such as power lines and oil pits, and ever more structures with glass that cause collisions.

What can you do to help? If you have a yard, make it bird friendly.

Arkansas Audubon Society sponsors a certification program called Bird-Friendly Yards. Certification is based on four categories: planting natives and removing invasives, removing hazards, supplying basic needs, and personal actions.

Are you interested in natural habitat and ecology? One of the first books ever written about the environment is "A Sand County Almanac' by Aldo Leopold, published in 1949.

Beginning with a beautifully written description of the seasonal changes in nature and their effect on the delicate ecological balance, the book proceeds to examples of our interference and expresses the philosophy that stresses the need for wild spaces; not just for animals but for us as well.

Do you have a yard? Do you see birds in it? Do you feed them? If so, please check out Project FeederWatch, sponsored by the Cornell Lab of Ornithology.

This citizen science project is more than 30 years old. Thousands of feeder watchers count birds every year from November through April. You can count at times that work for you. You may see a species you’ve never seen before, like the beautiful Eastern towhee, or observe new behavior from a species you’ve seen many times, like the Carolina chickadee.

Did you know there’s a name for upright dead trees? They are called snags, and they’re an essential part of a forest ecosystem. Here are just a few reasons why you shouldn’t cut down and cart away a snag.

People generally agree that a mowed lawn is attractive. In fact, ordinances and covenants in many neighborhoods require lawns, and mandate that they be mowed.

Should we re-examine these values, in light of the climate crisis and increasing environmental degradation?

Most lawn mowers run on fossil fuels. Fertilizers and herbicides are poison, and their runoff from our lawns ends up in the Gulf of Mexico, where they contribute to the Gulf’s Dead Zone. The grass in most lawns is not a native species and so turns a yard into a food desert for wildlife.

Do you know Arkansas’s six natural divisions? They are also called eco-regions, meaning that each one is defined by a different geology, climate, soil, and variety of species.

They are the Ozark Highlands, spanning the northernmost part of Arkansas; the Ouachita Mountains to the south, containing the highest point in the state; the Arkansas Valley, where the Arkansas River separates the Ozarks from the Ouachitas; the Gulf Coastal Plain in the south; and the Mississippi Embayment, comprising the Mississippi Alluvial Plain, or Delta, and Crowley’s Ridge.

Is your yard a food desert? I’m not asking whether you have a garden. I’m asking whether your yard supports native species of animals. Let’s take the chickadee as an example, because it has been studied recently. Carolina chickadees are native to Arkansas and live here year-round.

If you have a feeder in your yard you probably see them. But did you know that they eat insects as well as seeds? In fact, they must have insects to feed their young, or their young will die. And here’s where your yard comes into it.